LONDON: Lebanese journalist Luna Safwan is the latest victim of an online abuse campaign after her tweet criticizing Hezbollah was carried by an Israeli news channel and she was accused of cooperating with Israel.
“There is a grave for all the traitors,” user Ramzi Abdallah tweeted. Another replied to her tweet with a GIF of a car exploding and the words “Take Care!” User Fatima Marianne tweeted: “Using your real identity as an agent to spread this disgusting propaganda will come back to severely bite you in the rear.”
Even a member of Safwan’s family — who goes by the Arabic Twitter moniker “Daughter of (Qasseim) Soleimani” — attacked her on Twitter, saying “we disown this lowlife agent Luna the whore” and “we do not accept you in the family . . . you are a disgrace to the family.” She even went as far as calling Safwan’s mother urging her to go against her own daughter.
The tweet that began it all stated: “#Lebanon is highjacked by an armed militia that is announcing tonight via Hassan Nasrallah, its leader, that a government without the Shiite duo will not happen. No solution as long as Hezbollah is controlling the narrative, leading the country toward total destruction.”
Safwan, an award-winning journalist, also included an image of Hezbollah’s emblem but replaced the text with “the elephant in the room.”
“Hezbollah are being this vocal about not caring which laws they break or what they do as long as it gets them heard and as long as it shuts off the other person who is opposing them,” Safwan told Arab News.
“When you’re pushed into a corner and you know that you made so many mistakes and that you look so bad, you take that extra step even if it makes you look worse because you’re already looking bad, and what encourages Hezbollah to do that in Lebanon is that, honestly, no matter what they do, there is no critical thinking among their supporters,” she said.
The tweet was carried by an Israeli news channel that was showcasing Lebanese opposed to the duo. It was seen by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar journalist Hasan Hijazi, who took a screenshot of it and tweeted that Safwan was validating Israeli PM Netanyahu’s UN General Assembly statements about a Hezbollah missile factory allegedly located in the Beirut neighborhood of Jnah.
“This generated a lot of hate, and hate turned into threats, and within two hours this turned into a whole campaign where people started calling on the security forces and the judiciary system in Lebanon to arrest me, just as they did with Kinda Al-Khatib, and to arrest me accusing me of cooperating with Israel,” Safwan told Arab News.
“This is definitely not a new technique, and this is definitely something that they push their supporters to do,” she said.
Indeed, other Lebanese journalists — mostly from the Shiite sect — who openly oppose the group are targeted by the militia-turned-political party, including notable reporters Diana Moukalled, Hanine Ghaddar and Ali Al-Amine. Al-Amine, who ran against the Shiite duo in the country’s parliamentary elections in 2018, was physically assaulted by a group of men loyal to Hezbollah because of his views.
“I expect this to happen more and I honestly worry that this will not only be limited to people who come from this sect at a certain point, because this might be a larger argument at some point later: ‘If you don’t believe in my politics then you are a traitor and not only if you come from the same sect if you come from any sect’,” Safwan said.
Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement have both come under close scrutiny lately due to reports that the duo have held up the formation of a technocratic government because of their insistence on maintaining control of the Ministry of Finance.
“Lebanon is basically collapsing because you have two entities, Hezbollah and Amal — of course along with the other parties who have a big role in the corruption and the situation — these two parties that basically said just last week that they will not give in to a cabinet if the Ministry of Finance isn’t given to them,” she said.
“They are playing a major role in the current situation and crisis in Lebanon, and their supporters still see them as the saviors.”
The hold-up has led Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib to recuse himself from the task. Adib was given the green light by most of the political parties in the country — including the Shiite duo — after the former cabinet’s resignation following the Aug. 4 blasts that left at least 200 dead, more than 6,000 injured and more than 300,000 homeless.
Lebanon is witnessing several crises beyond its control. Even before the port explosions, the country was facing an unprecedented economic and financial slump that saw its currency — long pegged at 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar — deteriorate by at least 80 percent of its value on the black market at one point. Added to that is the coronavirus pandemic that catalyzed the economy’s downfall, and cases surged following the blasts’ toll on hospitals.
Freedom of speech, Safwan explains, could be the latest casualty of Lebanon’s crises, but it is also in a position where it could flourish.
“Double standards right now are very much what’s exposing political parties in Lebanon, but more specifically political parties who choose violence, whether it’s verbal or physical, to prove their point with regard to anyone who is opposing them,” she said.
“This could be a chance for Lebanon in my opinion because the more people are being attacked, you have on the other hand more media flourishing. Freedom of speech is now the talk of the town for everyone, so I think that it could be deteriorating but there is a little bit of hope somewhere regarding expressing these things.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s support base seems to be growing as the group is pushed further into a corner following US President Donald Trump’s sanctions campaign.
“The huge base of supporters blindly follows the party to whatever the party wants to do, whatever they want to engage in, whatever decision they want to take,” the journalist explained.
As for Safwan’s response to Al-Manar’s Hijazi and his accusation, the journalist pledged not to stay silent as she discusses next steps with her legal team.
“I assure you that I will not just ignore this because it would be a crime against freedom of speech to just let these things go and just say that these were incidents,” she said. “This is targeted harassment and those who initiated it should know better, in my opinion.”